Jonathan Liew aims his intellectual eye at the experience of ‘being there’ in the stadia.
One can sense this from the moment one climbs the steps and emerges into the arena itself, which at this tournament feels less like entering a sporting venue and more like beaming through a portal. Loud, pumping, wall-to-wall music fills every conceivable space and orifice. The tunes stop a few seconds before the game begins and kicks in a second after the whistle blows. On the big screens, adverts for crypto‑trading compete for attention with the booming, rib‑juddering din of the official pitchside announcer, jabbering away like a circus ringmaster.
Here’s today’s World Cup briefing, including a mini-preview of this match.
Both teams must recover from opening defeats and find their first goals of the tournament. Since the glory of their run to the quarter-finals in 1990, Cameroon have not made it out of the group stages while Serbia have never reached the knockouts. Will Dragan Stojkovic play both his star forwards in Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic? They spent just 17 second-half minutes together as Brazil ran away with the game in Serbia’s opener. Rigobert Song, the Cameroon coach whose tracksuits have made him a cult hero, must find a way to get service to Eric Choupo-Moting and Bryan Mbeumo in attack. JB
The Serbian coach, the legendary Dragan Stojkovic, also spoke ahead of the game.
We knew the first match with Brazil would be very difficult given that we had personnel problems with injury to some of the key players for us, so this World Cup for Serbia began after the match with Brazil.
It’s an important match against Cameroon given that both them and ourselves have started with a defeat, but that does not diminish our ambitions and objectives for what we wish to achieve and what we expect.
Some Cameroon news ahead of the teams. It seems Samuel Eto’o, who happens to be president of the Cameroon FA has put them under pressure by predicting they would reach the final – against Morocco – and that’s not to the taste of Rigobert Song, the national coach, who has had to deny a rift with his former teammate.
I would say sometimes he even wants to put on the jersey and get out on the pitch to play, because he wants to give everything. But that is not why my players didn’t score against Switzerland. The president is a gentleman who is very supportive.
He was a footballer himself, he lives, breathes and dreams football, but he does not put any burden or stress on our shoulders, no. The president is someone who is easy to talk to, he is open and we communicate a lot.
“It will be a decisive game and we are well prepared. I think you will see a different side to this Cameroon side and we will silence our critics.
After just over a week of football in the Richard & Judy slot, this is the last of the list of matches to chew over with your morning coffee and crossword, not to get all John Motson Japan/Korea 2002 and overuse the breakfast metaphors. But it signals the final day of the second group round of first-round group stages, if you follow that. After their first match, both of these teams really need a win, having lost their openers. Cameroon lost 1-0 to Switzerland, a game notable for the winner being scored by a Cameroon-born lad in Breel Embolo, who delivered a first-rate issue of the non-celebration celebration and STILL got a volley of abuse from the social media trolls. Serbia were meanwhile on the end of Brazil’s coming out party, and having acquitted themselves well enough in defence, stopping Neymar in particular, tired and were on the end of Richarlison’s double.
Win at all costs for both? Not quite, since Brazil are probably expected to beat Switzerland, and that means Serbia can draw this and then hope to beat the Swiss. Cameroon meanwhile could really do with winning this as they have Brazil last of all. Both teams lacked a cutting edge in their opening matches, despite quality attackers in Dusan Tadic and Aleksandar Mitrovic for Serbia and Eric Choupo-Moting and Bryan Mbeumo. It’s been a tight tourney so far in terms of goals, only Spain and England have smashed them in, only to lose that scoring touch in the next game. This feels like it should be – and will be – a tight affair but here’s hoping for a morning classic.
Kick-off is 10am UK time, 1pm Mecca/Qatar time. Join me.